The STEM fatale Initiative member Aglaja Kopf was interviewed for the article series “Geistesblitz” by Der Standard. In this science communication series, she is sharing exciting details about her research on immune cell migration. In her thesis, Aglaja particularly investigated the role of microtubules in the leukocytes’ sensing of their own shape.

She started from bone marrow cells and turned them into mature leukocytes, which she activated by introducing cell wall fragments from E. coli bacteria. She then used advanced 3D microscopy to film and study the movement of leukocytes both in fabricated micro-channels and in model organisms.

Aglaja found that first, the microtubule-organizing center acts as a pathfinder by moving into the winner protrusion, the arm along which the cell will move. This is followed by a local break down of microtubule filaments in the looser protrusions which soon after are retracted. When microtubules were experimentally destroyed in migrating leukocytes, the cells became entangled because exploratory protrusions kept on growing, making it impossible for the cell to decide for a specific migration route, which frequently resulted in fragmentation and ultimately cell death.

All cells in our bodies have some kind of sensing capabilities for their own shape. Studying this process could allow us to find better treatment options for certain diseases and support our immune cells on their hunt for intruders inside our bodies.

Read the full interview here: